Biggest Marine Protected Area launched in Mindoro

Reports from Arvel Malubag & Conservation International –Philippines

LUBANG, Occidental Mindoro- The municipalities of Looc & Lubang recently approved their respective ordinances establishing a marine management area of more than 14,000 hectares collectively around the Lubang islands in the Verde Island Passage (VIP) Marine Biodivesity Corridor. Last April 7 (2010) in Brgy. Binacas Mindoro, Lubang – Looc Climate Smart Marine Protected Areas was launched through Conservation International Philppines, Phillipine Coast Guard, media, LGU’s, funding agencies and experts.

“ The establishments of these marine protected areas represents a huge investment for the future of the millions of people and a coastal communities depending on the rich marine resources of the VIP and we are proud to have been part of this bold step taken by the people of Looc & Lubang municipalities” said Romeo Trono, CI’s Country Executive Director.

The Looc-Lubang marine protected areas are composed of a total of 14,485 hectares scattered across ten sites around the island, making it the largest MPA system in the entire Verde Island Passage. The area also hosts the corridor’s largest “No Take Zone” at 1150 hectares while the remaining 13,335 are designated as “ fishery reserve areas”.

The results of connectivity studies, scoping surveys and the proposal to establish the protected area were presented and consulted to some 1,000 stakeholders from 24 barangays. According to CI, issues were raised, policies and additional management zones were recommended by the stakeholders themselves, initial delineation and boundary validation conducted and general consensus achieved as to the establishment of MPAs.

In an interview, Lubang Mayor Juan Sanchez said without enough research and studies (that would back up the declaration of the marine protected area), he finds it difficult to decide especially that a large portion of the marine territory would be declared MPA.

Based on research, aside from the high densities of fish larvae, eggs and extensive coral reefs, studies also showed that the Lubang- Looc area boasts of at least 3 turtle species of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) 8 seagrass species and a rich variety of commercially important fish species.

Composed of the stretch of water surrounded by the provinces of Batangas, Occidental & Oriental Mindoro, Romblon and Marinduque, the VIP Marine Biodiversity Corridor has been recognized by experts as the “center of the center” of marine biodiversity in the world. Further studies led by Conservation International (CI) showed that the Looc-Lubang area is the one of the areas with the greatest marine conservation potential in the VIP. The reefs and shallows around the islands showed very high concentrations of fish larvae and egg, which means that protecting these areas is important in maintaining biodiversity and sustaining the fisheries resources of the entire corridor.

No Take Zones however, are MPAs that are set aside from all forms of extraction. Fishery reserve areas on the other hand, are those where only certain fishing methods and gears are allowed. These areas are established in order to protect the marine habitat and enhance fisheries resources. These MPAs are also expected to enhance the island’s tourism potential, since the no take zone is located in front of a stretch of the island’s best beaches and coral reefs.

Looc Bantay-Dagat member Rene Paglicawan affirmed that illegal fishers operate in their locality before using both dynamites and cyanide in fishing. Difficulty rises when it comes to catching the illegal fishers due to faster and more advanced boats compared to those of Bantay-Dagat’s as stated by Paglicawan. According to him, the MPA entails more initiative for better policing of the area especially now that Smart Communications gave free 20 cellphones for the members of Bantay-Dagat of Looc and Lubang.

In addition, Trono noted that the Lubang –Looc No Take Zone also carries the distinction of being a “climate-smart” MPA, one that. After specifically being designed to be resilient to climate change impacts (such as increased storm frequency and intensity and its associated rainfall), is further buffered from anthropogenic stress with responsive governance. Lubang- Looc stakeholders together with their local leaders are one in this endeavor.

The protected areas are to be jointly managed by the municipalities of Looc and Lubang. Louella de Lara , Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator,(MPDC )-Looc says that after this establishment, their main concern is the enforcement of policies. The continued support and understanding of the locals including outside entities especially on the technical aspects of the management of the MPAs are likewise critical added Ray Morales, MPDC of Lubang.

“ This is a significant addition to the growing network of MPAs in the Verde Corridor, and we hope that other municipalities in the country will follow suit and take steps to protect their name resources” Trono said.